Opinion: The South Side of Garfield Park Needs Fixing

Neighbors finally had to buy and install this railing on steep steps in Garfield Park

Garfield Park is a great asset for the Capitol Hill neighborhood and for all of DC. But the southern edge of the park and the area a small distance south of the park are in very bad shape as a result of long deterioration and then serious damage during the CSX tunnel construction that began in 2015.

Fortunately, this can be fixed and greatly improved. Councilmember Charles Allen got $1 million put into the DC budget available as of the fiscal year beginning in October 2018 to fund needed work. But, unfortunately, District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which is responsible for planning the work and making needed infrastructure fixes, has gotten virtually nothing done.

Water accumulated at edge of park at underpass

Though $900,000 has recently been allocated to the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to make some improvements throughout Garfield Park, the Friends of Garfield Park, of which I am a long-time Board member, wants to push DDOT and other agencies to fix all of the deterioted elements in the park which are important for recreation, safety and basic enjoyment of the park.

Big Improvements That Are Needed

  1. The basketball court that was there for more than 25 years and heavily used has been ruined—one upright and backboard removed, lines removed, holes and cracks in court surface, and a pile of more than 20 concrete blocks, most weighing hundreds of pounds each, is sitting in the middle of the court.
  2. The skateboard park that was built by users starting about 2010 has been mostly removed and was never as good as many other skateboard parks in other cities and a few in DC. It should be rebuilt to standard.
  3. There is no good route under the Freeway for people to walk through Garfield Park toward or from Yards Park, the increasing number of residences south of the freeway, the Whole Foods store, etc.  Allen’s plan called for an ADA-appropriate walkway dealing with ups and downs of curbs and walls and a gradual path from the underpass up a hill into the park. But DDOT has not made that happen. There were many complaints from neighbors, for example, that on the steep steps into the Park from New Jersey Ave. there was no handrail. When the government did nothing about this problem, some neighbors finally purchased a rail from an iron-works company and worked with that company to install it.
  4. There is a stretch of Virginia Ave., going from the skatepark west all the way to the New Jersey Ave. bridge, that has been closed to traffic for years because of security concerns of the Architect of the Capitol. And good news is that DDOT has now stated that there will be no parking or use by ordinary vehicles on that stretch. This has made the stretch available to, and frequently used by, pickleball players. Some of these players have painted lines for four pickleball courts and purchased a steel cabinet with a padlock that can be shared. And they have stocked it with paddles, balls, a leaf blower, and portable nets that players can easily set up and take down. And they have spread the word on court availability to the public, resulting in hundreds of court users. A major plus is that the pickleball courts are on an otherwise abandoned strip of road and don’t take up any of the space that has been so valuable in the main grassy area of Garfield Park.

So, what needs to be done? Repair cracks in the pavement/courts and make a smooth surface, put good courts in place, make an exciting skateboard park, add lights under the freeway in the areas where the freeway serves as a ceiling and add 10 or more Washington Standard light posts in the area not under the Freeway and set the lights to stay on for usability and safety until shutting off automatically at roughly midnight as the lights in Garfield’s existing tennis courts can do. Figure out and implement a strategy for processing water that comes down out of the park and brings mud and debris (possibly by putting in pipes under some surface areas, a few rain-gardens in the park, a few walls, and some slopes or road contours that will move water into non-problematic areas). All this is feasible at manageable cost.

Some of the work that should be on a new list of what the agencies contract for include installation of at least one more volleyball court (possibly immediately to the west of the existing volleyball court), replacing badly functioning or unsafe children’s play equipment and re-surfacing the ground beneath all the equipment, adding about 15 new benches, and replacing the now cracked tennis court surface.   

The infrastructure part of this work is to be done by DDOT. But the DC government apparently assumes that the other parts of the park like the play areas will be done by DPR, so it will be important that DDOT and DPR work together on the planning of each piece so that, for instance, a surface or wall will not be put in by DDOT that is inconsistent with a court that DPR might want to put in.

Friends of Garfield Park played a key role in coordinating the planning for the last major renovations of Garfield, in 2001, including installation of children’s play equipment, a volleyball court, horseshoe pits, extensive plantings, a sprinkler system, etc.  The Friends will seek to play a similar role now, bringing the agencies together, monitoring contractors’ performance, coordinating the process of getting citizen input, etc. 

Ed Note: This piece, written for our May 1 print edition, went to print before the April 20 planning meeting with DC DPR on Garfield Park. At that meeting, DC DPR Landscape Architect David Wooden said that the list of improvements for the $900,000 project at include landscape improvements, site furnishings, playground equipment and resurfacing, lighting, ADA accessibility and resurfacing of the tennis court. Those needs that do not fit the budget will be held until more money becomes available, he said. There are no plans related to the underpass.

If you’d like to play a role in improving the park, contact Friends of Garfield Park at:  Friends4Garfield@gmail.com